There is one astonishing claim in Pew’s new survey of American Hispanics: Between 2010 and 2013, 12 percent of them stopped identifying as Catholics. That’s a drop from 67 percent to 55 percent of those over the age of 18 — four million people representing an 18 percent decline in the proportion of adult Hispanics who are Catholic.
Either the Latinization of the American Catholic Church has come to a halt or there is something wrong with the numbers. Based on the Trinity American Religious Identification Survey (the 2008 ARIS, with which I am affiliated), it’s the numbers.
Specifically, Pew’s 2010 survey, which had a sample size of 1,375, found the percentages of Hispanic Catholics, Evangelicals, and Unaffiliated (Nones) to be 67, 12, and 10 respectively. ARIS, in the field two years earlier with a sample size of 3,169, found the percentages to be 59.5, 16.6, and 12.4. Those numbers, which are in line with the results of the 2008 General Social Survey cited by Mark Gray of Georgetown, make clear that the problem has to do with Pew’s over-counting of Catholics in 2010.
But Pew’s 2013 survey, based on a sample size of 4,080, looks good. And when looked at in comparison with ARIS surveys going back to 1990, what it shows is a steady, moderate decline in the proportion of Hispanic Catholics over a quarter-century (65.8 percent to 55 percent); a small decline in the proportion of Hispanic Evangelicals (18.3 percent to 16 percent); and a threefold increase in the proportion of Hispanic Nones (6.4 percent to 18 percent). And that’s the news: the rise of the Hispanic Nones at the expense of the Hispanic Catholics, to a level comparable to the rest of the American population.
It’s important to bear in mind, however, that the total number of Hispanics in the American population has risen dramatically since 1990 — from 9.6 million adults to 33.3 million today. So notwithstanding the proportional declines, there are lots more Hispanic Catholics and Evangelicals in America now than there were back in 1990.
As has always happened in America, a significant portion of Catholic immigrants become Protestants. But there’s no evidence that the rate of such conversion is picking up among Hispanics. Indeed, the young adults — like their non-HIspanic peers, are much more likely to turn into Nones.